The recent discussions in parliament have highlighted a concerning trend in national policymaking. While the National Council debated compensation policies for human-wildlife conflicts and crop damage, the National Assembly engaged in heated deliberations over a proposed Education Act. These focused debates, though important, reveal a potential blind spot in addressing broader socioeconomic challenges facing the nation. Critical issues such as youth unemployment, substance abuse, financial and digital inclusiveness, urban poverty, and inadequate elder care have been notably absent from these discussions as each issue is discussed in isolation. Rather than creating or amending multiple laws for specific sectors, it may be more effective to enact one comprehensive social security law. This approach could address a wider range of pressing issues and provide a more holistic framework to address multiple challenges. 

UNDP’s Social Protection Offer 2.0 emphasises the critical role of social protection in promoting economic and social inclusion, particularly considering the gaps exposed by the Covid-19 pandemic. It states, “Social protection is an effective tool to promote economic and social inclusion and it is a key lever to reduce inequality and poverty, address vulnerabilities and enable investment in human development.” The UNDP’s Social Protection Offer 2.0 presents an integrated approach with three key objectives: (1) “Protect and prevent” by reducing vulnerabilities and ensuring access to essential services; (2) “Empower and promote” by enhancing capacities of vulnerable households through improved access to healthcare, education, and employment; and (3) “Transform society” by addressing root causes of poverty, inequality, and vulnerability. This comprehensive approach aims to create a more resilient and equitable society through multifaceted social protection measures.

Social security laws are designed to provide comprehensive protection for all members of society, with a particular focus on creating a safety net for vulnerable and marginalised groups. The law should promote universal access to necessities and a decent standard of living, address crucial social issues such as healthcare, education, employment schemes, and natural calamities and wildlife-related issues. In the modern context, they also extend to inclusive financial services and digital rights as these are becoming necessity. Such social security law must adopt a holistic approach, addressing interconnected issues. Therefore, parliament must take into holistic approach in deliberation instead of pushing each issue in isolation. 

The studies also provided that “social security programmes help to create a sense of community and social solidarity by providing a safety net for those who are most in need. This is particularly important in societies where there are significant income and wealth disparities, as social security programmes help to reduce these disparities and promote a sense of shared responsibility”. For example, the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom provides free healthcare services to all citizens, regardless of their income or social status, which helps to promote social cohesion and reduce health inequalities.

Therefore, the parliament should adopt a single comprehensive social protection Act to address numerous issues through an integrated approach. This approach will enable the government to provide a single window of services through a single entity, such as the social security department created under one ministry, by pulling all stakeholders and resources together. This will simplify access to services for those in need. Moreover, leveraging emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and machine learning will further enhance the efficiency and speed of these services, ensuring that citizens receive the support they require in a timely and hassle-free manner.

Sonam Tshering

Lawyer, Thimphu

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are author’s own.